A student asked me this just yesterday. I chuckled and said, "Now there's a question!"
She blinked at me, surprised, because, of course, to the average person, this is a simple "yes" or "no" matter.
So I had to explain.
I consider myself a Christian, but what I think a Christian is and what the world at large thinks a Christian is are two different things. To me, "being a Christian" means following the teachings of Jesus. Thankfully, they can be easily summed up as "Honor God, and treat others the way you'd like to be treated."
(For "God," in my book, you can substitute "Cosmic Consciousness" or "The Divine Presence" or "Love," or however one chooses to define God. It can be Yahweh; it can be Allah; it can be the goddess Isis. How people define or label God is largely irrelevant to me.)
However, if someone put the standard Nicene Creed before me and asked me to affirm it, I'm afraid I couldn't do so because... well, it's man-made theology in my book. (I mean, it was formed by committee(s), after all. Have you ever sat on a committee? I rest my case. And Jesus never said anything like it, anyway, as far as we know.) So I'd agree I believe in the one god, creator of all, and.... then we get to "whose begotten son is Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, who was crucified and died and rose again on the third day and ascended back into heaven from whence he came and will one day return to the earth to judge us, and that the holy spirit descends from both the Father and the Son, and so on,".... I just can't affirm all of that. That makes me a heretic, and that means automatically (in many people's opinion) I'm not a real Christian, so I'm not saved, and I'll be going to hell. Thus sayeth the Lord.
But let me explain a little further. I think Paul (a human being, after all) might have got it wrong. Now, faith is great--faith can lead people to do wonderful things. But history has shown us that faith can also lead people to do horrible things. (You know, like persecute or kill others.) I'm more inclined to think James the Just had it right: "Faith without works is dead."
Jesus put it another way: you know a good tree by the good fruits it produces.
So if somebody stands there and rattles off to me the Nicene Creed and says he believes it, word for word, and then that person turns around and owns five mansions but doesn't help the poor, hurts other people, dumps money into the military-industrial complex, is a racist jerk, and beats the crap out of his wife whenever he gets drunk but insists he's saved because of his faith... isn't that too easy? Why should he be saved and not, say, Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu who walked more in the footsteps of Jesus than most of us ever will?
|A life insurance policy.|
In short, what a person does speaks a lot louder than what a person says.
Christianity is not a life insurance policy. At least, I like to think that's not what Jesus had in mind. I think what Jesus wanted is for us--quite simply--to be good to each other, and for no reason other than that it's the right thing to do.
So that's, to me, what a Christian is. Therefore atheists, agnostics, and people of other faiths are invited to the party. And I do try to practice what I preach. It's not easy. I fail. I learn, and then I try to do better. I apologize if I've been wrong. Or I try to make amends and right the wrong if that's possible. But sometimes trying is not enough, and I must willingly accept the consequences of my own failures. I pray for guidance; I ask for help to do better. And forgiveness, I've found, is truly a practice. I continually have to ask for help in letting things go and to love people who've wronged me anyway.
Because that, I believe, is what Jesus would want me to do.
Ultimately, then, the answer to the question is: it depends on what YOU think a Christian is.
Part two: is here.
Part three: is here.
Part four: is here.
Part five: is here.
Part six: is here.
Part seven: is here.